270,000 people have fled their homes in south-western Syria since the military launched an assault on rebel-held areas two weeks ago, the UN says. Government forces have been advancing with the help of Russian air strikes.
Many of those displaced by the fighting in Deraa and Quneitra provinces have headed towards the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But neither country has said it will allow an influx of refugees, sparking fears of a humanitarian crisis. Jordan has kept its border closed and said it could not cope with taking in any more than the 660,000 registered refugees it already hosts, while Israel has said it will not allow Syrians to cross into its territory.Up to 70,000 of the displaced are reportedly gathered near the closed Nassib border crossing with Jordan, where many families are being forced to live in makeshift shelters or out in the open, without basic supplies.
"We lost our children, our houses, our places to take shelter," one woman at a camp said, "We are sitting on the ground. We have no water to wash our hands. We have no water to drink, no food to eat."
UN officials said on Monday that more than a third of the population living in rebel-held south-western Syria had fled their homes in response to the government's intense air, artillery and rocket strikes as well as clashes on the ground. The high number of displaced people has also increased the pressure on hospitals in border communities, which medics say have been repeatedly targeted by Syrian government and Russian air strikes since the government offensive began.
"We were expecting the number of displaced in southern Syria to reach 200,000, but it has already exceeded 270,000 people in record time," Mohammad Hawari, a spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency in Jordan.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Deraa and urged neighbouring countries to provide safe passage to those wishing to flee the violence.
Jordan said it had been delivering aid to crossings with Syria, but that there had been issues getting permission from Damascus to transport it over the border.
"We believe that it is in nobody's interest to have Syrians depart their country," he said. "There is no shortage of aid supplies. The question is just to get it across." Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said.